A bit of a long entry, so buckle up and keep your feet on the inside of the vehicle!
In need of a break, I am taking a long weekend and a chance to explore some more of Texas. I am off to Houston!
I searched for a smalltown diner to have breakfast and finally found one in a tiny town called Madisonville. It knew it was going to be perfect when I cracked open the door at the Walker Cafe and EVERYONE stopped eating and looked me over. In my mind I was ready to flash my passport and say loudly... VISA, VISA - I have VISA! But, luckily I controlled myself.
I demurrely ordered coffee and it arrived in a mug with an ad for Day Funeral Home on it! I knew it was going to be a great day. And I was right!
After breakfast it was back on the road for me through small town Texas where I came across this peculiar sign... Next stop was the town of Brenham and the home of Blue Bell Creameries. Blue Bell Ice Cream is only available in about 20% of the nation’s supermarkets, it ranks as one of the top three best selling ice creams in the country. Blue Bell ice cream has also been eaten aboard the International Space Station and at Camp David.
Blue Bell retains control over all aspects of their business, primarily to ensure quality control and the use of the freshest ingredients available. The company is still family owned by the Kruses and they are famously know for stating that "the milk we use is so fresh it was grass only yesterday." The company uses milk from approximately 60,000 cows each day, and the cream used during each day's production run is always less than 24 hours old.
All production and packaging takes place within Blue Bell facilities, which are able to produce over 100 pints per minute. Drivers of delivery vehicles personally stock store shelves so that they can ensure that it is handled properly.
After touring the facility, you only get to choose ONE flavour... Let me put that in perspective... Blue Bell produces over 250 different frozen products. I was uhmming and aaahing and this poor ice cream scooper got visibly peeved at me... Finally I decided on Chocolate Covered Cherries. Oh my... It was soooo good!
Back on the road and this time I headed for Katy, Texas. One of my dreams has always been to go to China to see the amongst many this the Terracotta army. Thank God a lot closer to East Texas is the Forbidden Gardens. It is an outdoor museum of Chinese culture and history and the museum is funded privately by a Chinese businessman named Ira Poon who is interested in sharing his country's history.
Forbidden Gardens takes its name from two of its major features: A 1:20 scale model of the Forbidden City with hundreds of palace buildings and figurines under a 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) pavilion, and the small grounds for walking and viewing additional exhibits.
Additional exhibits include a detailed panorama of a scholarly retreat called Lodge of the Calming of the Heart, an outdoor array of 6,000 one-third scale soldiers and chariots from the Terracotta Army tomb of the first Emperor of Qin, an indoor panorama of a city called the Venice of China (Suzhou), and rooms exhibiting details of historical architecture and weapons.
Forbidden Gardens is unusual in that it is privately funded, displays extensive models made and shipped from China, and gives a unique view and experience of one of the most interesting times in medieval Chinese history. It originally cost $40 million to construct and only 40 of the 80 acres (320,000 m2) Poon bought are currently being used. The Terracotta Army display is unique in that the statues are exposed to direct sunlight, unlike the sheltered originals, enabling excellent photography conditions.
The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China near the Mausouleum of the First Qin Emperor. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. Many archeologists believe that there are many pits still waiting to be discovered.